REVIEW: Sydney Lemelin: ‘Rockfish’

Rockfish
Choreographer Sydney Lemelin
The Clarice Dance Theater
University of Maryland College Park
October 20, 2018 

By Morgan Pravato

In a deeply personal dance theater performance, University of Maryland undergraduate student Sydney Lemelin explored her half Chinese identity in a journey through family stories, photos, videos and mementos with audience members. Rockfish was performed as a part of a two-day Second Season show at The Clarice Dance Theater on the College Park campus last weekend, presented by the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies.

Rockfish begins with Lemelin in front of the curtain, casually greeting her audience and teaching them the lyrics to “Wo Yao Ni De Ai.” The song was originally by 1950s pop star Grace Chang, recently covered in the hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” She starts teaching the words slowly, but her energy picks up as the accompanying music begins to play. Then she bursts past the curtain back onto the stage, happily running and jumping to the music and voices of the audience.

Lemelin’s fun, lighthearted energy continues. She expertly plays two characters, the “Chinese Fairy God Mother” and herself, flipping over her shoulder to clearly and effortlessly execute the conversation between the two. The Fairy Godmother lists all of the tasks Lemelin must complete in order to reconnect with her Chinese identity, including having a very “authentic” meal at Panda Express and quickly learning how to speak the difficult language.

Quirky humor is evident in her theatrics: she screeches into a stereotypical accent as she portrays the Fairy God Mother, and nervously laughs and stammers as she portrays herself. Embodying the Fairy God Mother seems perfectly natural.

After this dialogue, Rockfish’s lightheartedness shifts for the first time to a more serious tone. Lemelin goes into the audience to retrieve a suitcase. As she begins to unpack it onstage, she shares family memories and photos of her mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and so on, that she found in her grandparents’ house after they passed away.

The mood lingers. Lemelin walks away from her suitcase as her grandfather’s voice plays on a recording. She dances beneath a beam of light that projects a windowpane pattern on the floor, appearing to confine her to the space. Uncurling her fingers, she outstretches her hand, a movement that she repeats numerous times. Sharp jerks of her body are followed by serene smoothness. The same clear intention behind Rockfish remains, despite the absence of speech.

After unpacking another suitcase, finally the meaning of the title, Rockfish, grows clearer. Lemelin pulls large gray rocks out of the bag — each representing a woman in her photos. She grows flustered, throwing the rocks down the stage. A video of her mother holding pictures and explaining her own childhood memories plays as Lemelin expertly portrays the wonder of learning family history for her viewers.

As the video ends, Lemelin constructs a rock tower while telling the story of how her family fled communists in Shanghai, escaped to the United States, traversed the country to New York and sailed to Brazil.

The ending shows the full significance of the rocks in Rockfish. Lemelin shares that when her family began unpacking in Brazil, they discovered that their belongings had been replaced by … rocks. The tower falls and the lights dim.

The roughly 30-minute piece felt like ten, including the abrupt surprise ending. It left some audience members wanting to know, “What happens next?” Perhaps Lemelin felt the same while delving into her family history. After so much research time, she still managed to make her performance feel genuine, as if she was discovering the information for the first time.

Photo: Sydney Lemelin in Rockfish, by Geoff Scheil, courtesy The Clarice

Morgan Pravato is an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park pursuing a BA in journalism and dance under the Journalism President’s Scholarship. She began dancing at the age of three, studying tap, modern, contemporary, and ballet before attending UMCP. She currently writes for the campus paper The Diamondback while balancing rehearsal time. A dance lover since childhood, she continues to pursue her dance and writing passions.